DVD Review: Sleep, My Love (1948)

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Perhaps inspired by his own background as a German-born filmmaker who left his homeland to protect his Jewish wife from the clutches of the Nazis due to Adolf Hitler’s pre-World War II rise to power, one of the most frequent themes that recurs throughout Douglas Sirk’s filmography revolves around individuals who are made to feel like outcasts in their homes and/or society.

Whether they’re being persecuted by majority suburban rule in the court of public opinion in All That Heaven Allows or finding themselves stopped by a roadblock in the form of a cruel twist of fate on their path to the American dream via Magnificent Obsession, Sirk’s films are filled with tales of (predominately female) lives that have been interrupted by the actions of others.

And similar to the way that his ‘50s Written on the Wind heroine Lauren Bacall began feeling unsafe in her own home in that Oscar winning masterpiece, actress Claudette Colbert goes through a similar experience of even greater Gaslight inspired proportions in 1948’s Sleep, My Love.

A long out-of-print Sirkian melodramatic thriller based on Leo Rosten’s novel, Sleep, My Love found the director working in the genre of Film Noir (that first gave Wind star Bacall her big break) with this slight yet gorgeously shot domestic mystery.

Lensed by Hitchcock’s three-time cinematographer Joseph A. Valentine and intriguingly released only a few days after Valentine’s Day – although Sirk dismissed this decidedly anti-Valentine blend of Gaslight and Hitch’s Suspicion as a failure, there’s still enough style (if not substance) in this Mary Pickford production to seduce Sirk’s legions of fans.

After waking up on a train with a gun in her purse and no memory of how, why or when she’d left her New York City home, Colbert’s understandably traumatized housewife finds herself in one alternately confusing and terrifying situation after another.

Is she being pranked, driven to insanity or is she really going mad?

While it doesn’t take Perry Mason or her Perry Mason costar Raymond Burr to figure out that something is rotten in Denmark (or actually New York), Sirk shows his hand far too early as we’re quickly introduced to suspicious conspirators including a Gilda lookalike and a bespectacled optometrist by day turned tormentor for hire by night.

An admitted B-movie that's been lovingly released on disc by Olive Films, Sleep, My Love is nonetheless salvaged by Shadow of a Doubt cameraman Valentine’s shadow-heavy visuals and a strong cast.

Yet while it’s one of Sirk’s weaker works, in its depiction of a woman who finds herself persecuted by an unknown villain to the point that her home is no longer the peaceful, happy place she’d always known, we see an early glimpse of a subject that would obsess the filmmaker in the next phase of his impressive if sadly underappreciated career.

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